Test – Metroid Dread – Nintendo, MercurySteam Entertainment, Switch

Who remembers Metroid? The original concept that outright invented a genre in its time had not given any sign of life for nearly 20 years. It took a bunch of enlightened lovers of warm sangria, already in charge of dusting off the other game-genre Castlevania and the late Game Boy Metroid 2 episode to reinvigorate a monkey series to the extreme. So yes, I already hear some drown you under the superlatives to speak of Dread: “the return of the King”, “the resurrected lord”, “the best episode of the saga!”. We would prefer to salute the audacity of a studio which somehow managed to put the series back on the front of a stage crowded with participants.

And yet, it was far from won. Take the pitch of the game for example: having reached the bottom after everyone else, the poor Westerners of MercurySteam must juggle the crumbs of a narrative arc wrung for 20 years by the Japanese. Stuck behind the Fusion episode and Samus Aran’s setbacks with Parasite X, they are doomed to talk again about these (cute) little colored blobs. We therefore set off again under the orders of the Galactic Federation to the brand new planet of ZDR to follow in the footsteps of … Parasite X which still seems alive and in good health (hold on), despite the annihilation of the SA-X during the crash from BSL space station on SR388.

Except that hardly arrived there, Samus comes face to face with a chozo stronger than her which removes all her powers (obviously!). From there begins the long journey through the underground laboratories that litter the planet and the encounters with its local fauna. While searching for a route to the surface aided by his ship’s computer, Adam. You know the recipe: gradual recovery of powers until you become a demigod at the end of the game, wandering through labyrinthine levels. Oh and a handful of bosses with edgy patterns to spice it up.

Adam’s game

You’ve played this, we’ve all played it before. Metroid-likes, “Metroidvanias” with RPG accents and more generally 2.5D exploration games, it comes out in packs of 12 each year on Steam. So what makes Dread both an authentic representative of the saga, but also a game that you can’t miss if you have a slight appetite for the genre? Already, because it is obvious from the first half hour of play: the bizarro-sci-fi trip of yesteryear gives way to a real Alien-style terror instilled by the developers. If the universe is less slimy and dark than that of the previous opus, the sanitized corridors of this industrial complex are also the playground of a whole new relentless, irresistible and almost indestructible enemy: the EMMI Killer robots who have no that one goal, to forcibly vaccinate Samus against COVID-19 using their gigantic needles (in any case, it looks like it). Hardly have we crossed the threshold of these delimited “EMMI zones” that the game changes its formula: from hunter you become the prey and you have more than one option, flight.

The level design of these areas is also meticulously studied to distress the player. The long corridors give way to tangles of platforms just there to slow down the beauty and promote the movements of the beast that can be heard clicking in the distance.

And when you don’t run for your life in the face of EMMIs, you face dangers such as seemingly impassable areas where life goes down on its own and boss clashes in large numbers. 20 years later, Metroid Dread is also much less rigid than it was back then. We could even say that this is his greatest success, managing to wipe out the past, the one where we constantly had to stop to aim or trigger a particular action. Fluidity is everywhere! Dash, speed of movements, 360 ° aim, counter / parry system inherited from Samus Returns and especially the almost 60 images per second almost constant (we will come back to this) which despite everything do a lot of good to the license. The parade / cons precisely, icon of the Metroid with Andalusian sauce which also allows to recover a little life and ammunition is updated to add a degree of additional stress.

There is no longer an animation that automatically triggers the counter frame at time T, but a subtle reduced window during which an enemy can trigger a “blink” at any time. We find this notion of randomness in the almost unstoppable rushes of EMMIs (count 2% of chance of succeeding in parrying). Another element which contrasts with the saga and which denotes the audacity of the studio: Dread breaks the codes implemented by Yoshio Sakamoto and imposes on the player a voluntarily violent change of pace in the middle of the game. Exploration-action, the game turns into what could almost be described as a “boss rush” interspersed with scripted game sequences. The areas are more narrow and conducive to the low blows of a bestiary with more complex patterns.

The timings, those of the bosses, are delicious, insolent and push us to repeat these fighting orgies over and over until they find THE flaw that will allow an hour later to beat an enemy that we called all names without losing a single bar of life. And it’s in those moments when Metroid Dread is really generous, when he makes us persevere and emerge victorious from a fight that we thought we would let go of the Joy-con to play something else.

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Parasite Eve

Despite the pleasure it gives to pushing us to our limits, this concluding episode is nonetheless irritating for mainly technical reasons. Already, as we said above, the 60 FPS touted by Nintendo are actually only present on the wiser half of the game, and more. When chaos begins to reign in ZDR, between the deluge of particle effects, reflections and nervous bosses that zigzag through the levels, the game begins to cough severely. Many of us have noticed this in the editorial ‘in all possible cases (demat’ / physical game, console docked / portable).

And if the framerate regularly yoyoing, it is especially the feeling that suffers, because it would seem that in this case, the game too often overrides the controller commands essential to use vital abilities like Space Jumping. And when you lose a boss fight because of that for the 10th time in a row, there is something to be annoyed with about a quality control carried out in a hurry (proof of this is the crash blocking some players before the last one). boss, which will be corrected at the end of the month with an update …). In the register of hiccups, we can also cite an attachment to the ledges that is too imprecise and overall a jump system with unpleasant timings.

Another observation at the heart of its flagship mechanics: the charm of the first encounters with EMMIs with not very fut-fut AIs is fading in the face of undue repetitiveness by killer robots always more mobile and faster than us. In the end, we are forced too quickly to follow the path desired by the developers in these partitioned areas, even if it means trying hard in a loop. The artificial freak / escape mechanic slowly transforms into silly and mean rote parkour.

Finally, we regret that the management of fluid transfers between the rooms was not more exploited than that. Make no mistake, Metroid Dread remains a good vintage that comes out with honors. We could cite a whole bunch of details that still make the difference: the staging in interactive QTEs that make it possible to bring down the bosses more quickly when they have found their weak point. A damn card that allows you to highlight all the elements of such or such type. Backgrounds that reveal many details (the next boss who discreetly interferes in the scene, robot-machines that butcher a giant monster corpse, etc.). Until the famous “unknown objects” nod to the previous episodes which this time take on meaning later in the story … Passing through an ever so oppressive soundtrack which comes to bludgeon our ears during the worst fights boss.

 
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